For many rural residents, mail is a lifeline, providing connections with government, commerce, and each other. The local post office offers a community a sense of identity as well as a retail hub that serves a central role, even as rural populations continue to decline. It’s not just an American thing: post offices function similarly in rural communities around the globe.
For many international posts, rural networks may lose money. How they’ve dealt with that can provide lessons for the U.S. Postal Service.
The OIG’s Research and Insights Solution Center (RISC) wanted to find out more about changes other posts have made to improve the financial viability of their rural post office networks. RISC examined six countries – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
As RISC's white paper reports, initial research found that the structure of each country’s universal service obligation (USO) plays a role in the number of rural post offices it has. Most USOs examined specify the maximum distance a person should travel to any post office as well as the minimum number of post offices nationally. The USO for the Postal Service doesn’t define or address either metric. In addition, posts in the U.K. and France receive subsidies for their retail networks, whereas USPS currently receives none.
To reduce the costs of rural networks, the international posts have tried a variety of means, including outsourcing retail outlets to third-party businesses, optimizing their retail networks, and limiting hours. They have also explored other ideas the Postal Service could consider:
- Provide space to other government agencies;
- Sell retail products;
- Provide in-person digital identity verification;
- Provide financial services or telecommunications services; and
- Switch to mobile post offices.
Are there other ideas the Postal Service could explore to offset costs of rural post offices?